May 6, 2021: China’s new space station is just getting started, but it’s already putting on a good show. “I’ve seen it twice this week,” reports Mark A. Brown of Marion, Iowa. “The space station’s Tianhe-1 module has been making brilliant passes across Middle America.” Here it is rivaling the star Vega on May 4th:
“In the photo, I also caught the tumbling Long March 5B booster, which helped loft the module into orbit,” says Brown. “The booster flares brilliantly (visual magnitude -1) in reflected sunlight as it tumbles along Tianhe-1’s path. Both objects are easily seen with the naked eye.”
China launched the Tianhe-1 module on April 29th. It is the first of three modules that will eventually join to create the Chinese Space Station (CSS). When the CSS is finished, it will be about as big as Russia’s old Mir space station, roughly a quarter of the mass of the ISS. Three astronauts will live onboard.
On May 5th, Tianhe-1 flew over Manorville, New York, where Philip Smith photographed it through a 14-inch telescope:
“I was lucky to get this image,” says Smith. “The module was already 56 degrees above the horizon when it popped out of Earth’s shadow–so I didn’t have much time. Less than a minute later it was at its maximum altitude of 76 degrees, and that’s when I caught it.”
Readers, you can see the new space station with your own eyes. Visit Heavens-Above.com and select flyby predictions for Tianhe-1. Many towns and cities in the USA have a good view this week. Pro tip: Go outside at least 10 minutes early; you might see the tumbling booster rocket, too.
EXTRA: The Long March 5B booster rocket is out of control. Forecasters expect it to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on May 8th or 9th, with pieces landing … no one knows where. There is a 70% chance of an ocean splashdown, and experts say human injuries are unlikely.